Whitley Warriors triumphed over Billingham Stars for a second consecutive weekend with an 8-3 win to achieve their first NIHL North Cup victory of the season.
Lining up with eighteen skaters and netminders Richie Lawson and Rory Dunn in the absence of Player-Coach David Longstaff, Whitley Warriors faced off against the Stars’ line-up which included returnee Chris Sykes, Captain Michael Elder and Alternate Captain Ben Davison.
Filling in for Longstaff on the first line, forward Callum Watson immediately engaged in some neat passing play with left winger Ben Campbell to bring shot stopper Mark Watson into the action. Billingham then claimed possession, leading to some steady play in the opening stages but the Warriors increasingly began to cause problems for their visitors and it showed as Callum Watson took hold of the puck and steered it close to Billingham’s net, all the while keeping defenceman Dylan Hehir at arm’s length before firing past Mark Watson on 4:54, Campbell and Captain Dean Holland assisting. In the wake of this goal, Canadian Phil Edgar utilised his skill in an attempt to carve a path through Billingham’s defensive zone whilst his line mate Callum Queenan also set about testing Mark Watson who dealt with the threat. Continuing to demonstrate this offensive strength, Edgar eventually reaped the rewards of his intricate play when he swept the puck clear of the Stars’ defence to fire over Mark Watson from just inside of the blue line on 12:49 to make it 2-0. Less than two minutes later, forward James Moss picked up a delaying the game penalty to give Whitley a power play. Maintaining possession in their offensive zone, the Warriors’ rapid passing was combined with their patience to earn the side a third goal, Campbell and Holland again teaming up to find Callum Watson who executed on 15:49. A shot from Alternate Captain Jordan Barnes was also saved by netminder Mark Watson before Latvian defenceman Rolands Gritāns fired from distance over the Stars’ net. Meanwhile, Billingham tried to break free of Whitley’s defence, with Czech Daniel Silar and forward Craig Thurston appearing particularly dangerous, but netminder Richie Lawson contended with their attempts to ensure his team headed in with their 3-0 lead intact at the first interval.
Seeking a goal to bounce back from this disappointing first period, the Stars began more positively in the second stanza as Silar cut through Whitley’s defence to achieve an unassisted delayed penalty goal on 21:29 following a hooking offence from blue liner Liam Smedley. Challenging the Warriors more frequently as a result of this goal, Billingham’s forwards Callum Davies, Elder and Sykes were amongst those troubling Whitley’s defensive unit. Responding with some attacking play of their own, the Warriors hit back as defenceman Harry Harley played the puck to Callum Watson to set up Holland whose swift shot made it 4-1 on 27:13. As both teams scrapped for the puck along the boards shortly after this goal, Davison incurred a holding penalty but tempers instantly flared; Barnes dropped the gloves with Moss and both threw punches in a fairly even fight before the Warrior overpowered the Star. This incident resulted in Barnes receiving a minor for roughing in addition to the fighting penalties of 2+2 that both collected. Thirty seven seconds later, Holland picked up a two minute roughing penalty after shoving a glove into Tomáš Rubeš’ face to leave his team shorthanded. After successfully killing these penalties, it seemed that ‘D’ man Josh Maddock would be next to be sidelined when it was deemed that he had prevented a goal scoring opportunity for Silar. However, in this instance, a penalty shot was awarded to Billingham instead and Silar stepped up only to be met by Lawson who made the save. Spurred on by this, the Warriors struck again on 38:35 as Campbell netted in style from the boards of the left wing, assisted by Harley and Holland. Eighteen seconds later, Campbell claimed his second goal of the evening, this time intelligent link-up play with Holland and Callum Watson allowing him to dismantle Billingham’s defence to make it 6-1 before the second break.
Realising the need to immediately chip away at their deficit, the Stars switched netminder Watson for former Warrior Mark Turnbull and added their second to the scoreboard forty one seconds into the third period when Captain Elder buried his shot following some rapid play from Davies and Rubeš. Whitley responded with some long range shots in the hope of catching Turnbull out, Harley and Gritāns notably striking from the blue line but without much success. Hardworking forward Ross Murray showed that he was eager to grab a goal and was ready to pounce on his rebounded shot which Turnbull quickly covered. Campbell, Watson, Holland and Edgar continued to have the best of the chances, with Turnbull giving up several rebounds leading him to kill play more readily when danger arose later in the period. Thurston once again sought to break clear of Whitley’s defence but found himself offside whilst Silar and Rubeš continued to create opportunities for the visitors so it was unsurprising when the latter pulled a goal back for the Stars to make it 6-3, Sykes and Elder assisting on 47:56. A crosschecking penalty for Watson on 50:02 was then followed by a high sticks penalty against Thurston seventeen seconds later when the forward struck Murray. When both penalties were served, the Warriors found the net for a seventh time, Queenan weaving through Billingham’s defence and leaving the puck for Edgar whose low shot defeated Turnbull on 53:17. The score line 7-3, the Warriors did not let up in offence and Murray came close the finding the target but was pushed into the post as defenceman Andy Finn dealt with his attack. In the final two minutes, the game became heated once again when Barnes and forward Jack Emerson clashed, the duo punished for slashing offences on 58:28. Twelve seconds later, Whitley made it 8-3, this time Harley springing into action courtesy of Holland to complete his team’s scoring and to seal the Warriors’ first NIHL North Cup victory.
Shots on goal
Callum Watson (2+2), Ben Campbell (2+2), Phil Edgar (2+0), Dean Holland (1+5), Harry Harley (1+2), Callum Queenan (0+1), Ross Murray (0+1)
Michael Elder (1+1), Tomáš Rubeš (1+1), Daniel Silar (1+0), Callum Davies (0+1), Chris Sykes (0+1)
Man of the Match
Warriors: Harry Harley
Stars: Chris Sykes